Backyard challenge in Vero Lake Estates celebrates BBQ, fun

VERO LAKE ESTATES – They came out to a home in Vero Lake Estates – not to just visit with friends, but to chow down on barbecue, play games and enjoy some music, all to support a couple charities.

“For some reason we always pick the hottest day of the season,” said organizer Jeff Raynor. “But I prefer that to the rain.” This year’s charities were Harvest Food & Outreach Center in Vero Beach and The Source homeless shelter.

The weather, though hot, didn’t seem to affect the crowd, which gathered off 104th Avenue to take part in the North County Backyard BBQ Challenge – sampling more than a dozen barbecuers’ entries and casting their ballot for “People’s Choice.”

“Without those cooks, there’d be no event,” Raynor said. “They need to come back every year.”

This is the second time Raynor and his buddy, Scott Hamrick, have organized the event. The first was in September – but concerns over the potential for hurricanes caused them to move up the challenge to April, before the rains and hurricanes.

“This is a first class day,” said Steve Hamrick, who was selling the family’s barbecue sauce as part of BBQ to You.

“It’ll be interesting to see who wins,” he added, noting that four of the trophies handed out last year were barbecues with their sauce. “I guess you could say we have an award-winning sauce!”

Judging the pulled pork entries were two County Commissioners – Chair Bob Solari and Wesley Davis – along with volunteers Leah Hagerman and Sandy Seeley.

Each judge considered the samples of pork carefully before jotting down a score for taste, tenderness and appearance.

“I’m going to have to get a second bite of that one,” Hagerman said of entry No. 9.

“They’re all high numbers so far,” Solari said of his scores. “I wonder what that means.”

Not even halfway through the entries, the samples began taking their toll on the judges.

“I’ve got to start taking smaller bites,” Davis quipped.

“Clearly, these two are professional eaters,” Solari said, pointing to both Davis and himself.

During the judging, the judges remarked over the flavors, the juiciness, the bark on the barbecue.

“I’m just trying to school, y’all,” Davis said, pointing to the outer layer of the meat, blackened from the smoke. “That tells you the quality of the barbecue.”

Before they could conclude their judging of the pork, Davis asked to sample two entries again.

“I might have to have a taste-off,” he said of entries No. 1 and 2.

In the end, No. 2 was his favorite because of the spice, smoke and tenderness.

Barbecue contestants seemed to be enjoying the day just as much, if not more than, anyone else at the event.

“If it was any better I’d have to be twins!” said Tim Burke, of W.E. Coyote BBQ.

Along with entering barbecue in all four categories, Burke and his crew whipped up two desserts – a pecan tart and a chocolate Kahlua truffle.

“We like to try to keep our customers happy,” he said.

Win or lose, Burke said – like Arnold Schwarzenegger – “We’ll be back” next year.

Contestants had the option to enter any or all of the four categories of BBQ – chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. However, brisket was open to only “People’s Choice” and was not judged by a panel of hand-selected judges.

Organizers plan to add it next year as a judged entry.

“We’re having a good time,” said Michael Rogers, of team R-Par-T.

This was the second time the team participated in the challenge – and this time Rogers hoped to take home a prize.

“We didn’t win anything (last year), but we had a great time,” he said.

His wife, Alison, said they participate more for helping the charities than they do for the prizes.

Rogers said his team “just winged it” this year – rather than plan, like they did last year.

Those not cooking up the barbecue walked the grounds, stopping at the different tents to sample the grub, trying to figure out who should receive their “People’s Choice” vote.

“It’s awesome,” Tori Van Buskirk said.

“It’s excellent,” her friend, Misty Flood said, adding, “It’s definitely backyard-cooking. Everyone has something different.”

The ladies said they would be willing to come back next year and help out with the judging.

Editor’s Note: This article will be updated once receives the list of this year’s winners.

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